Ready with the twinkle

With Santa

Not even the merriest of Santa’s elves could feel jolly when it’s 70 degrees, humid and raining.

But we press on here in Maryland. Because Christmas is Friday!

Honestly, I’ve struggled to get into the spirit this year. Despite it being Oliver’s much-anticipated first holiday, I’ve felt overwhelmed and stressed since Thanksgiving — just perpetually behind. Trying to accomplish many things, and doing none of them well.

It’s the pressure, I think. THE PRESSURE. Self-imposed pressure to create the “perfect” season — but still. Knowing we’re winding down on my son’s first year has made me reflective . . . more than usual, I mean. The idea that this time — his first Christmas — is an important one, a time that will live in our memories forever, has made me tough on myself. If I haven’t been enjoying every moment, I feel doubly awful for not enjoying it. You know?

I’m a mess.

But I want to feel relaxed. Calm. Bright. With the best of intentions to get my shopping done early, I’ve been scrambling for last-minute items for days — and even made one fretful trip to Walmart on Saturday, the busiest shopping day of the year, to brave the chaos and meandering check-out lines. My version of purgatory, basically.

But I can’t be too hard on myself. Work has been insanely busy for both Spencer and me, leaving us with little energy in the evenings. Plus, in early December, Ollie got sick — again — and this time, instead of a run-of-the-mill cold or the dreaded hand, foot and mouth virus, it was with croup. An illness straight out of 1942, apparently.

That was almost three weeks ago.

After many trips to the doctor and urgent care, we got him feeling marginally better . . . only for Spencer to get sick. Then me. With no ability to be off work and so much to do.

You know what’s exciting? Interviewing a chef for a restaurant feature with no voice. Literally: none. Trying to contain your cough around people just trying to enjoy their seafood. Stifling your sneezing in a library as you meet with the sweetest children’s librarian ever — a woman with whom you can barely chat, given you can’t even be heard in a silent library.

But did I get those articles written? Did I meet deadline? I DID. Beast mode.


Sleeping


Having three ill people in one house with no one to be primary nurse did test our limits, though. Poor Ollie was so congested and uncomfortable, though he did sleep — thank God. I couldn’t take another scream-fest that was hand, foot, mouth in November. These back-to-back illnesses have made me want to quarantine ourselves forever — and I can see why many families, especially those with preemies, tend to exist in a bubble until spring.

And yet. I won’t dwell on the negatives, the hard times. We are all well now! And we’re well for Christmas! And we have wonderful family and friends we’ll be making memories with over the next few weeks. After the tumultuous year we’ve had, our dear son is thriving — and becoming such a little man. A true delight.

Despite our exhaustion, I have tried to soak up the atmosphere. We made it to see Santa Claus — twice! — and walked around holiday markets in town. We’ve made hot chocolate with delightfully defrosted whipped cream. Though I tend to fall asleep on the couch by 9 p.m., I’ve watched a few so-cheesy-they’re-awesome Hallmark movies on the DVR . . . and have more saved up for the weekend.

There have been quiet moments with my husband and son: reading Bear Stays Up For Christmas and watching “Charlie Brown,” looking through our holiday cards and pointing out each soon-to-be-familiar face to Oliver. Hanging our stockings, scrawling “Mommy” on gift tags. Buying the cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning.

But the most delightful part of December has been watching Ollie each morning as we descend into the living room. His face splits into the biggest grin at the sight of the glittering tree and fireplace, made magical again overnight.


Rolling


And he’s rolling now! Independently. Totally independently — and much to his own delight. It happened for the first time last weekend, and now he cannot. stop. He’s addicted to the roll, I’m telling you. And he looks so proud of himself with each flip, lifting his head to smile at Spencer and me. It makes me teary.

At 8 months old (6 months adjusted), we’re hitting milestones at our own pace — and for the most part, I’ve been OK with that. I don’t read baby books, generally speaking, and resist the urge to compare him to friends’ children. The “Your Baby Now!”-type app has been uninstalled on my phone.

Though I’m still working on my acceptance of preeclampsia and his prematurity, I have learned that sweet Oliver is Oliver. He moves at his own pace, but he does move. Our journey might look a little different, but that just means we fight harder.

Still: that roll? That tangible progress? The perfect early gift for his mama.

Now that we’re days away from Christmas, 95 percent of the “work” has been completed. We’ll soon gather at my parents’ and grandparents’ houses for our traditional Christmas Eve and holiday festivities, and head up to see our New York family next week.

This season may not have been the cookie-cutter “perfect” time  I imagined for Oliver’s first year, but . . . what in life truly goes as planned?

And it’s not about how or when you turned on the twinkle lights, anyway.

The point is: they’re twinkling now.

And we’re ready.

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How I’m getting it together — for the holidays and beyond

LifePlanner

I know, I know: the “H” word.

For every delighted person out there reaching for their carol book and favorite Thanksgiving stuffing recipe, there are the folks who just want to burrow back in bed and pretend the whole season just isn’t happening. Yet.

For the most part, I’m in the former category . . . and this year, I’m starting early.

No scrambling through Target three days before Christmas, looking for something — anything — for that hard-to-buy-for relative . . . and miraculously coming up with something that fits the bill, but not without a great deal of stress.

I’m also not blowing a ton of cash in a desperate attempt to “just be done” with my holiday shopping already, as I’m wont to do when exasperated.

Now that I have an infant, I feel especially compelled to take care of huge, pressing matters — like the extravaganza that is Christmas — as efficiently as possible.

So I started. The Great Holiday Gift Spreadsheet 2015 has been created, and the first gifts are on their way.

I know it seems crazy to talk about this now on the cusp of a golden October. Thinking about Santa with a pumpkin spice latte in my hand feels off, but I don’t want anything sneaking up on me this year.

I’m 30 now — time to get my stuff together.

I considered making this “spreadsheet” just a physical group of notes I could carry around in my purse, but decided that would too easily fall into the wrong hands (my husband’s), revealing all of Santa’s top-secret machinations, or just get lost in my bottomless bag.

So. It’s definitely digital. But I did make a big non-digital change in September.

In a desperate attempt to stop feeling like a crazy person who is constantly two steps behind, I broke down and ordered an Erin Condren LifePlanner*. I’ve officially returned to the world of paper planning. I still use Google Calendar daily for appointments, birthdays, trips, etc., but I’ve started using the ECLP to track day-to-day tasks and things I need to accomplish.

Bills to pay.
Calls to return.
Birthdays I can’t forget.
Meals for the week.

All the stuff that my cluttered, tired brain can’t hold anymore.

Returning to a paper planner for the first time since college has been . . . interesting. In our digital world, I’m so used to tapping everything into my iPhone that it felt strange at first: a miniature time warp.

But using a physical planner has been hugely beneficial for my mental health, friends. I’m cool with preaching the Gospel of the Planner.

The literal act of writing something down makes a huge difference in whether I actually remember to do it, for one. Just as taking notes in class once helped to commit concepts to memory, scrawling out a reminder to bake cupcakes for a coworker’s birthday means I may actually do that. You know: before her next one.

I don’t want to blame it all on that sweet baby, y’all — but the hard truth is that I have less energy and mental storage than I did six months ago. Work is challenging, too, and I’m a mom who comes home to care for a child, make dinner with her husband and figure out something reasonably unwrinkled to wear to work before getting up at 5 a.m. to do it all over again.

I was forgetting things — silly things — and, honestly, I’ve just been extremely stressed out.

Something had to give.

I’m going on three weeks of meticulous note-taking now. Though initially it felt like writing in the LifePlanner was just something else to do, I’ve definitely gotten used to it and really enjoy having everything I want to do in a single place. My anxiety has dropped, no doubt.

Beyond the planner, I took some time last week to set up a few spreadsheets to get me through the next few months. With so many celebrations, birthdays and holidays through January, I knew I needed a way to keep track of gifts, cards, etc.

I take these things very seriously.

If you’ll pardon a moment of gender-based generalization, I typically find women are responsible for a great deal of anything that falls under the category of “Holidays, Celebrations Thereof.”

Gift buying.
Tree trimming.
Baking.
Cooking.
Party hosting.
Card-sending.
Stocking stuffing.
Thank-you-note writing.

You get the drift.

I hope the gentlemen reading this aren’t offended. I don’t mean to imply you’re not interested at all or don’t help . . but women do tend to take the lead in these matters.

And that’s okay! I’m not complaining. I love traditions, and I love to do those things.

But . . . it’s a lot. Lots to take care of, keep track of. I know you can do as little or as much as you want (for any occasion), but our family has always liked to do it up big — and I don’t want to overlook a detail or forget someone. I’m afraid of something . . . coming up short.

That’s a personal issue. But this is only my second married Christmas, and my first as a mom, so . . . yeah. Oliver’s first Christmas? This is major.

Enter the spreadsheet.

Mine is nothing fancy, but I’m happy to share the ol’ tools of the Meg trade with you. If you’re interested in creating your own, spreadsheets through Google Drive is basically where I store the contents of my caffeine-addled brain.

While signed into your Google account, start by accessing Drive. Click that handy-dandy red “New” button at the top left in the sidebar. Select “Google Sheets.” A fresh, blank spreadsheet should open.


Xmas spreadsheet


In the “A” column, I put the names of everyone I need to shop for: husband, son, parents, grandparents, friends, etc. Everyone has their own color, just ’cause it’s pretty and helpful when scrolling.

The “B” column is for presents. Black text means it’s already purchased; red text means it’s just a gift idea, and has not yet been ordered or brought home.

That red text? Super important. Whenever I think of a cool gift for those folks who seem to have everything, I tap it in there so I won’t forget. As soon as the gift is purchased, it’s changed to black text and I go on my merry way.

The “C” column has been getting more use in the past few years: cost. The price of each item goes there. After a bracing glass of eggnog (or four), you can click the top of the “C” column for a fast, Google-calculated sum of everything you’ve spent.

The “D” column may seem a little redundant at first, but that’s where I keep track of everything spent on each individual. I just add up the cost of each present and tally it there as I go, which helps me stay on budget.

And I am on budget.

That’s the other reason I’m starting so far in advance, friends: money. Shopping in September and October allows me to spread out the payments before the mad post-Thanksgiving rush, though I’m sure I will still be gathering up odds and ends in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

But my goal this year is to have most presents purchased and wrapped by Thanksgiving, so I can really relax and soak up the season. No mad dashes, frantic Amazon scrolling or anxious running through the mall on my lunch break.

Which leaves more time for hot chocolate sipping, “Home Alone” watching, party throwing — and photo shoots featuring Oliver as an elf or reindeer, of course.

Definitely scheduling that in the planner.


*Affiliate link. I will earn referral credit if you click through and make a purchase,
but I only ever discuss products I love!


Crafting new Thanksgiving magic

Plate

After signing a 30-year mortgage and getting hitched, preparing to host our first Thanksgiving dinner marks my transition into adulthood.

Since I was a kid, my grandparents have welcomed us for turkey, green bean casserole and Gram’s homemade pies. I’m very fortunate to have grown up close to both sides of my family, but my grandma and grandpa live a whole 15 minutes away. Even now — after I’ve moved twice.

Thanksgiving meant getting up early with my sister to watch the Macy’s parade from New York City, the pair of us eating Eggo waffles as we waited for the day’s festivities to begin. In later years, Kate and I began addressing our Christmas cards that day — a new tradition — and pouring over the flyers for Black Friday sales.

Things have changed, of course. For one, I usually have to work on Black Friday . . . though no longer as a cashier, thankfully. (Although I kind of miss those crazy, frantic sales days at Michael’s and Borders. It was the Super Bowl of retail, you know? Everyone banding together, ordering Chinese, wearing elf hats, working until the wee hours. I really did love the bookstore.)


Casseroles


And now we’re married. Grown-ups. Katie is at her place; I’m at mine. Last holiday season, Spence and I were very new newlyweds — and I was stricken with this panic that we should be starting traditions as a couple, trying to parse together what we should be doing on Thanksgiving morning. Which ended up being eating cinnamon rolls and watching the parade together, which . . . still good.

Now that we have a year of matrimony under our belts and I’m staring down the dark side of age 30, we’re beginning to cobble together our own traditions. When we settled on the house in May, I was already envisioning the holidays at our new place. The fireplace! The bannisters! The entryway! In my mind, everything was already covered in greenery and twinkling lights.

In fact, one of the earliest conversations I had with my mom — as we stood in the cold, dark house in the spring — was where we’d put the Christmas tree.

(And yes, I totally knew. In the corner by the fireplace, for sure.)


Thanksgiving cupcake


Now that Thanksgiving is a little over a week away, Spence and I have been busy getting the guest room ready for his parents’ arrival and plotting the extensive menu for our family dinner. As the guest list has expanded, I offered to take over hosting responsibilities from my grandparents this year. Gram has prepared our family feast for decades . . . and I thought maybe she’d like a break.

And here we are.

I’m feeling sort of sentimental about the whole thing. Thanksgiving, to me, is still buried somewhere under those sales flyers at my parents’ house — mixed heartily in with memories of Kate and me on the couch with stacks of cards, shouting when Santa appeared at the close of the parade. Standing over the stove with Mom as she made her mashed potatoes. Later, arguing with Dad over the wishbone.

It’s arriving at my grandparents’ home only to be hit with a burst of heat, Gram bustling in the kitchen as we all arrive in coats with covered dishes. Invariably someone will begin to sweat, prompting Grandpa to crack a door. “I’ve had the oven on all day!” Gram would say, pulling out casseroles and giving us our first glimpse of the much-anticipated turkey.

In time, someone would take over carving duties. My cousin, sister and I would steal olives and cream cheese-stuffed celery stalks from the dining room table. We’d all begin fussing with serving utensils, bread baskets, folding trays. And everything would appear in my grandparents’ dining room — magic.


Pickles and olives


Thinking that I am now partially responsible for said magic is . . . a little overwhelming. I want it to be awesome. I’m still processing the fact that: a) we own a house in which to even hold such an event; and b) I’m an adult who is also responsible for cooking. Until a few years ago, my contributions to Thanksgiving were . . . to show up with a smile? (I know. Terrible.)

And now we’re talking about roasting a turkey?

I mean, I’m being a little dramatic. Nothing unusual. It’s not like I am personally responsible for feeding a dozen people this memorable meal: everyone is bringing delectable dishes and desserts, and my mother-in-law — a talented cook herself — will be on hand to help before everyone arrives. Spence is also excellent in the kitchen and will be handling the turkey and ham, so I know we’ll be fine.

I’m just feeling a little nostalgic, I guess. About tradition.


Turkey


But new ones can be formed, I know. Changed, altered, added to, sprinkled with a layer of glistening fake snow. In the end, it’s really just about being with loved ones, isn’t it? Having everyone together, preferably without the aid of smartphones and FaceTime.

And the green bean casserole, of course.

Gotta have the green bean casserole.


Etsy find Fridays: Lovely bookish finds

As a friend has helpfully pointed out, there are six Fridays until Christmas. Three pay days. Seven weekends.

I’m someone who has, in recent years, relied on the Internet for most of my shopping needs — but I’m already struggling this year. With limited time and a limited budget, how do we find gifts that impress? Everyone loves the look of delight on friends’ faces when they open something tailor-made for them, but getting there — that magical moment with gift wrap shredded — is the hard part.

I’m something of a gift lover. Presenting presents means more to me than receiving them, even, and I’ve been spoiled by thoughtful parents who always seemed to find “the right thing.” The right thing does not mean “the expensive thing,” of course — just the perfect little something you never knew you’ve always wanted.

And that’s a lot of pressure.

Everyone knows I’m a reader. Despite my awful track record in 2014 (let’s not speak of it), books will always be my solace. Many of my friends are readers, too, but we all know the perils of trying to buy novels for the readers who have everything.

The odds of me picking out a paperback that a devoted reader has not read are pretty slim, honestly — so I rely upon Etsy for inspiration to wow literary pals. When I was working on the library at home, I drew inspiration from many of these items, too, and may hope Santa has a few hiding under the tree for me.

You never know when he’s listening . . .


Books are the quietest print

Books print, $20, by ladypoppins


Jane Eyre book scarf

Jane Eyre book scarf, $42, by storiarts


Book lover clock

Book lover clock, $49, by the accessory corner


Jane Austen bookmarks

Jane Austen bookmarks (set of 6), $9.50, by CastleOnTheHill


Library card shirt

Library card shirt, $22, by GrammaticalArt


This post was not sponsored in any way;
I just love Etsy and sharing cool finds with you!


Hot cocoa before the sparkly season

Hot chocolate

Oh, the comfort we find in a cup.

The leaves are mostly fallen, blanketing the back yard and deck. Winds over the weekend pushed most of them into the woods and stripped the branches of any hold-outs, but a few stragglers remain. A cold snap this week has us digging out jackets and scarves, but the afternoons are still warm. It’s the best of both worlds.

I made hot chocolate on Sunday — my first cup of the season. Loaded with marshmallows. Rich and decadent. It’s not a treat I’d usually create or reach for, but it felt just right that morning with a chilly breeze tapping against the windows. I couldn’t even wait for it to cool.

Now that a successful Halloween is behind us (20 trick-or-treaters!), I must confess to already being in holiday mode. I’m planning my Christmas shopping, crafting spreadsheets, drafting Thanksgiving menus. My aunt has already sent out an invite to her annual cookie exchange, and I sent a “save the date” to friends for a holiday gathering in December.

This year will be a little different: we’re in our new house, soon to be celebrating our first wedding anniversary (on Monday!) and looking forward to crafting new traditions. Well, for the most part . . . I’m excited and nervous in equal measure. It can be hard for me to let go of what was in favor of the unfamiliar.

But I’m ready to try.

Spence and I recently organized our Christmas boxes in the basement, corralling them from every corner and loading up a closet with sparkly treasures. I was half-tempted to just leave them in a heap, given we’ll be bringing them up in just a few weeks, but it felt good to get organized — however briefly. I like gazing at all that red and green, picturing where a candy cane village or gingerbread house will go.

I’ve been decorating this house in my imagination since we stepped in last March. Hard to believe the season is nearly upon us . . . and though I don’t want to rush Thanksgiving, which I love, I must admit to already greeting Santa in my mind.

It’ll be a good year. I can feel it.


Beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Christmas tree


Though I’ve been listening to my Michael Bublé holiday station on Pandora since before Thanksgiving (shh), I’m just now getting into the Christmas spirit. Eh, I guess it’s just been a little whacky around here lately.

And now I look up to discover the holidays are upon us. With our nuptials no longer zapping every ounce of energy from my body, I’m finally open to drinking hot chocolate, digging out beloved Christmas ornaments, lighting evergreen-scented candles and generally basking in the warm glow that is our first holiday season as a married couple. As we put up our Christmas tree on Saturday, I was reminded of all the milestones we have yet to reach — and how exciting it is to be doing these things together.

The holidays have always been celebrated loudly — and proudly — in my family. We put on Hanson’s “Snowed In” as we throw tinsel and set up the Christmas village, lining shelves with artificial snow and hanging our stockings with care. I have such fond memories of Christmas a kid, especially the prep work, and I wanted to extend those traditions to the home I now share with Spence . . . which meant finding my favorite ornaments for our tree.

Though I kept many special ones with my parents, a few bearing personal significance made it to the new digs — including my pink Power Ranger circa 1994, many cupcakes and the wooden cable car Spencer and I picked up in San Francisco on our first big trip together last year. As my mom and dad honeymooned in California on their honeymoon and picked up a very similar ornament in the ’80s, I almost fell over when I saw this little gem at the Cable Car Museum two summers ago.

It seemed like destiny. I had to have it.


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Our cable car, 2012

Mom and Dad's ornament

Mom and Dad’s cable car, 1980


Given how much we like to travel, it’s no surprise that many ornaments come from past vacations — especially London. I have a slew of English ornaments I purchased abroad or bought when I got home to bring back happy memories. And they definitely do . . . like my William and Kate wedding ornament! I picked it up at the Buckingham Palace gift shop (otherwise known as my happy place) in 2011.


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Since we don’t have the biggest tree in the world, we had to be selective with what we hung from our noble branches this year. We tried to include a healthy mix of Spencer’s childhood classics, including some porcelain Grinch ornaments, as well as newer additions commemorating our marriage. We made as much as space as we could — especially my favorites from childhood.

I’m big on continuity — and tradition. Keeping old ones, making new ones . . .

And drinking hot chocolate all the while.


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It’s Independence Day

Firecrackers


I love being American. My favorite part of a baseball game? Hearing and singing our national anthem. I get excited when, as an adult, a chance arises to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time researching our country’s history — both in school and long after. I love talking about our founding fathers (and mothers), and learning more about how the United States came to be is a frequent topic of conversation ’round these parts.

We bandy about words like “freedom,” “independence,” “opportunity” . . . and I’m as guilty of anyone for taking those concepts for granted. For taking our nation for granted. But though we’re just a newborn in the grand history of civilization, we are a proud and mighty group — and I hope to never forget how fortunate I am to have been born in a place where “hope” is a real, tangible thing.

I’m not sure if I’ll make it to any fireworks displays tonight (the traffic! the mosquitoes! the humidity!), but we are planning a trip to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, for some festivities and fun. Seems like an appropriately patriotic activity on such a festive day!

Happy 237th birthday, America!